History of Criminological Thought
Three different strains of positivism:
Tonight we are sticking with biological explanations; some biological explanations like
Lombroso's seem outdated but they are still used today:
1. Dan White assassinated the mayor and his aid; the medical examiner said Dan
White was not responsible for the killings because he was severely depressed and
consumed a lot of Twinkies & Cola, which "worsened his mood swing". This
defense was successful in getting White's sentence changed from 1st degree murder
to voluntary manslaughter.
2. PMS; a woman was drunk, swerving in her BMW. When pulled over, she harassed
and kicked the police officer; her defense in court was that she was afflicted with
PMS, which caused her to absorb alcohol faster and become irritable; this defense
was successful and she was acquitted.
3. 1981, Christine Englick kills her lover with a car and claims it was caused by an
aggravated form of PMS which caused her blood sugar to plummet; as a result she
is only found guilty of manslaughter.
This shows we have not gotten away from biological explanations. The idea that we inherit
traits from our parents is often used to explain crime. This perspective falls within
POSITIVISM BIOLOGICAL HUMANISM HERETIBILITY OF FEEBLE-
Problems of the Mind: Intellectual Incompetence
•Lombroso's theory of atavism was unpopular
•He theorized that there were five categories of criminals
•Charles Goring, The English Convict (1913)
oGoal is to assess Lombroso's theories
oHe compared criminals to noncriminals using statistical analysis
Studied 3000 prisoners and compared them to a control group
Lombroso was not really a scientist in an objective way, but Goring
Goring concluded that Lombroso's methods and theory were very
flawed and Lombroso was not doing "science", he was just
Criminals are physically and mentally inferior to the control group
They are shorter and lighter
They are "morons"
Criminality is not simply learned behaviour; criminality often
precedes marriage and the correlation between children and parents'
criminality is even stronger when the parent is imprisoned, which
makes the learning theory impossible (how can child LEARN
criminality from their parent if their parent is away in prison?)
Criminals are physically and mentally defective due to genetics
The recommendation, then, is sterilization
oCritique of Goring's Findings:
He assessed intelligence by "interviewer impressions", which is
Failure to measure substantial environmental influences (maybe it
has more to do with environment?)
Only studied male offenders (this goes against his theory - if
criminality is inherited, shouldn't men and women represent half of
•Conducted general family studies based on the assumption that family members
will share common characteristics
•Hypothesis: behaviours that are genetically determined should correlate more
strongly among family members
oIn 1877, he studied 7 generations of the Jukes
oLooked at the family in prison and traced their lineage back 7 generations
oDecided that the family began with an "illegitimate woman" who he called
"Margaret the mother of all criminals"
oHe discovered that 200 Jukes were criminals and estimated that their care
cost taxpayers $1.3M
oThis study was questionable; even in cases where members of the family
were not found to be criminals, he would claim they had "loose morals" or
were held in "ill repute"
The Problem: Feeble-Mindedness
•Dugdale believed that criminality was inherited, but not directly; Feeble-
mindedness was the quality that was inherited
•"Criminality is an artifact of feeble-mindedness, which is the part that is inherited"
•All criminals are feeble-minded, but not all feeble-minded people are criminals
•Helps explain crime and why criminals do not learn from their mistakes
•Argued that charity and social support undermined society as a whole
•Solution: society must stop interfering with natural selection